Cat News Nr 45


The Future Looks Dim For Wild Tigers

A survey by leading conservation organisations (WCS, WWF/US and Smithsonian National Zoological Park) has shown that tiger habitats throughout India, Indo-China and South-East Asia are now 40 per cent smaller than they were 10 years ago. Wild tigers in rapidly developing Asian countries “are in steep decline; today tigers occupy a mere 7 per cent of their historical range, and the threats are mounting, rather than diminishing”, the report declares.

And that is not all. There is pressure in China to restart domestic trade in tiger parts from farms for medicinal purposes. If the Chinese government, which banned the domestic trade in 1993, were to permit domestic trade, CITES would not be able to intervene because it has control only of international trade,. Any proposal to allow international trade would be unlikely to succeed, as a vote in favour would almost certainly not get the required support of two-thirds of the 169 Parties (national government members).

In August, the New York Times published an article by an Indian economist supporting freeing the trade in China. He said that legal trade was expected to lessen the pressure on tigers in the wild. It provoked a strong response in letters from conservation NGOs, which said that there was every reason to believe that it would encourage poaching, which is already causing a decline in wild tiger numbers. Only one of the letters was published by the NYT, but no letters supporting the article appeared; presumably there were none.

The tiger conservation spotlight has shone especially on India, whose government has consistently announced census estimates for 30 years that suggested that the country held over half the surviving world tiger population. Tiger experts declared that the estimates, including the 3,642 figure for 2002, were exaggerated. Recent leaked estimates from the first stage of a three phase official census now in progress have led to speculation that India’s tiger population could be less that it was (about 1,800) when Project Tiger, the government’s conservation programme, was launched in 1973. The estimates, from reports by forest guards, have been dismissed by the Project Tiger authorities, who insist that the following two stages, including phototraps and digital pugmark measurements, will produce reliable estimates that they expect to be closer to their previous population numbers. Completion of the census, originally promised for this autumn, has been put back to the second half of 2007.

Meanwhile a bill to give ownership in forest land to an estimated 325,000 tribals living in tiger reserves has been moving towards discussion and voting in parliament. Not only have limits in the original draft been removed, but tribal supporters managed to weaken a parallel bill to give Protect Tiger more power. Conservationists believe that the tribal bill would be devastating for the tiger because it would lead to forest destruction.

Most tiger reserves lack a sufficient number of forest guards, the foot soldiers of conservation, because of a ban on recruitment for nearly 10 years. Guards now are almost all over 50 years old.

The one positive development is that parliament has approved the establishment of a National Wildlife Crime Bureau with wide powers. It was first proposed in 1994 with CITES support, and will take a year or more to be set up and become active.

The tiger situation in other countries is dismal, except for the Russian Far East, where team work by Russian and American specialists has managed to maintain a tiger population of some 400 for the past 10 years, according to preliminary census estimates. Of 76 Tiger Conservation Landscapes in tiger range, defined as where tigers could live, Russia has the largest area, 270,000 km2. In other countries tiger range has “contracted dramatically” according to the survey report.

Does the future mean early extinction of the wild tiger, while captive tigers proliferate?

The tiger has been famous as the Flagship of Wildlife Conservation. Its current crisis status reflects that of most large mammals, and many other species, which are affected by the same threats – loss of habitat through human population growth, economic development, and poaching. The world’s wildlife heritage is threatened.

Peter Jackson     

Survey of the Cheetah in W National Park and Tamou Fauna Reserve, Niger by F. Claro, H. Leriche, S. van Syckle, T. Rabeil, S. Hergueta, A. Fournier and M. Alou

The status of cheetahs Acinonyx jubatus in West Africa is poorly documented. In the literature, the species is reported to range in Gambia, in the South of Mauritania, West of Mali in the Boucle du Baoulé complex, in the North and South of Mali, and West of Burkina Faso at the western border and in a region extending on the border between eastern Burkina Faso, northern Togo, northern Benin and South West of Niger.

Refined Mapping and Characterization of the Geographic Contact Zone Between Oncilla and Geoffroy’s Cat in Southern Barzil by E. Eizirik, C. Indrusiak, T. Trigo, D. A. Sana, F. D. Mazim and T. R. O. Freitas

The precise geographic distribution of Neotropical cats is still poorly known. In this study we have characterized the geographic distribution of two closely related felids in southern Brazil, where their ranges meet - the oncilla or little spotted cat, and the Geoffory’s cat. Individuals bearing atypical coat color patterns (appearing as mixtures of characteristics of both species) were observed in this region, suggesting that hybridization may be occurring between these two Neotropical cats in the contact zone.

The Need of Transboundary Efforts to Preserve the Southernmost Jaguar Population in the World by A. Paviolo, C. de Angelo, Y. di Blanco, C. Ferrari, M. di Bitteti, C. Benhur Kasper, F. Mazim, J. B. G. Soares and T. G. de Oliveira

At the June 2005 IUCN/SSC/Cat Specialist Group Workshop in Brazil on the “Status and conservation needs of the Neotropical Felids”, Argentine and Brazilian researchers were surprised to learn that the same jaguar Panthera onca had been photographed by camera traps in both countries. The Brazilian researchers (Kasper, Mazim, Soares and de Oliveira) “captured” the animal during their sampling activities at Turvo State Park, in Brazil, and the Argentine group (Paviolo, De Angelo, Di Blanco, Ferrari and Di Bitetti) photographed the same animal two months later, 36 km away, during their field study in Yabotí Biosphere Reserve, in Argentina. The jaguar is a large male in good physical condition; his home range most likely encompasses areas of Argentina and Brazil.

Iberian Lynx Ex-Situ Conservation – Seminar Series by A. Vargas

The Iberian lynx Lynx pardinus is considered the most endangered felid in the world. In December 2003, the Spanish Ministry of the Environment and the Andalusian Government initiated a collaborative Conservation Breeding Program for the Iberian lynx. In the past two years, nine cubs have been born at El Acebuche Breeding Centre, in Doñana’s National Park. As of November 2006, 27 lynx are in captivity. Soon, the Andalusian Government will open a new Breeding Center in La Aliseda, in the province of Jaén.

The Iberian Lynx in Portugal: Conservation Status and Perspectives by R. Cunha Serra and P. Sarmento

The Iberian lynx Lynx pardiuns has not been detected in Portugal since the beginning of the 1990s. The last nationwide census, conducted between 2002 and 2003, revealed no lynx or any signs of its presence. Although we cannot confirm extinction, the scenario is pessimistic. Participation in the Spanish Iberian Lynx Captive Breeding Program is being prepared with the immediate aims of broadening captive breeding efforts and participating in the global recovery of the species, specifically aiming for future reintroduction efforts in the Iberian Peninsula.

Report on Serval Pelts in Morocco by S. Saldaña Arce and F. Prunier

Two serval Leptailurus serval pelts were identified in  December 2005 in the main souks of Fez and Marrakesh  in Morocco.

Pallas’ Cat Ecology and Conservation in the Semi-Desert Steppes of Mongolia by J. D. Murdoch, T. Munkhzul and R. P. Reading

The Pallas’ cat Otocolobus manul is a unique, arid-adapted cat that ranges across the steppes of Central Asia.  Known to occur from Tibet in the south to Siberia in the north, the Pallas’ cat inhabits a wide variety of grassland, semi-desert, and desert habitats.  Despite its range, little is known of the ecology or behaviour of the species and few details exist on its population and conservation status.  The paucity of information on the species poses considerable challenges to wildlife managers and conservationists in Asia.

Pet Dogs Can Save Humans From Man-Eating Tigers by M. Monirul H. Khan

Pet dogs are the best animal-friends of human beings from the very beginning of human civilization. They are used for various purposes; from a companion to tracking hunts, criminals or drugs. Recently, it has found that the pet dogs can be used to save human lives from man-eating tigers by warning people about the presence of a tiger.

Malaysian Conservation Alliance for Tigers by K. Kawanishi, L. A. Soosayraj and S. H. Yatim

Peninsular Malaysia is a tiger (Panthera tigris) range state where 45% of the total land cover is forest, comprising 36% of Permanent Forest Reserve under the Department of Forestry, 6% of Protected Areas under the Department of Wildlife and National Parks (DWNP) and 3% of state land under respective states (Department of Forestry 2003).

Chinese Government Investigates the Feasability of Limited Domestic Trade in Tigers by K. Conrad

The Chinese Department of Wildlife Conservation of the State Forestry Administration (SFA) hosted a foreign delegation from 4 -10 June 2006 to discuss lifting the 1993 ban imposed by the Central Government on the use of tiger parts and derivatives. The ban resulted in the removal of 28 different types of medicines from the Official Register of Chinese Pharmacopeia.

Status of the Caracal in Protected Areas in South-western Turkey by G. Giannatos, T. Albayrak and A. Erdogan

Although the caracal Caracal caracal is probably endangered in Turkey, knowledge of its status and distribution runs from none to a wide range of assumptions. The species has been considered ‘quite uncommon’ since the 19th century, while only a few animals have been detected or captured in 3-4 locations all over the country during the 20th century.

Cougar Signs in Eastern Canada by A.-S. Bertrand

Historically, the cougar Puma concolor was encountered all across the Americas from south-eastern Alaska to Patagonia and Chile. This top predator species has little specific habitat requirements. In fact, it has shown great adaptability to low-to-moderate habitat alterations. It may persist in a given area as long as habitat connectivity and prey availability are maintained. However, populations in north-eastern America drastically declined at the beginning of the last century due to persecution by humans and a severe reduction of prey stocks. As shown elsewhere, habitat fragmentation, loss and lack of connectivity are other factors that may also severely compromised the species’ ability to survive in eastern Canada.

Rusty-spotted Cat on India’s East Coast by R. Manakadan and S. Sivakumar

The status and distributional range of the rusty-spotted cat Prionailurus ­rubiginosus remains a mystery. Earlier, its range was considered to be confined to south-western India. However, since the 1970s, reports were also obtained from Jammu and Kashmir, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Observations of Rusty-spotted Cat in Eastern Gujarat, India by K. Patel

The rusty-spotted cat (Prionailurus rubiginosus), confined to India and Sri Lanka, is not only secretive but probably the smallest of all cats). Elusive and nocturnal in nature and also arboreal in habits, this combination of behaviors make this cat very difficult to see. This is the first attempt to study the distribution and status of the rusty-spotted cat in the region called the ‘Panchmahals’ in Eastern Gujarat, India.

Tribal Forest Rights Bill by P. Jackson

Two bills before the Indian Parliament have sparked clashes of interest between those seeking to give tribal people extensive rights in the forests, and those wanting major limitations in order to protect wildlife.